Best Toronto Family Lawyers Tips are provided by MacLean Law. MacLean Law handles family law matters in BC, Alberta, and Toronto Ontario. In today’s blog, founder Lorne MacLean, QC, recent winner of Candian Magazine’s 2020 Top 25 Lawyers explores the thorny issue of children returning to school in Ontario during COVID-19 times.
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The Ontario Government has mandated schools to reopen. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government will give $2 billion more to provinces and territories so that students can go back to school safely in the fall, with an initial $381-million installment given to Ontario.
What Happens When Separated Parents Can’t Agree on A Child’s Toronto Back To School Plans?
When it comes to going back to school governments and school officials say every family must make the decision that’s best for them. Parents of intact families likely have had spirited discussions in favour of going back to school or keeping their children at home.
If intact families have disagreements over what to do for their children now that schools have reopened, you can imagine that disagreements between separated parents are even more intense. These disagreements now often lead to court applications to have a judge decide whether a child returns to school or learns remotely.
The high profile case of Justice Himel in Chase v. Chase, 2020 ONSC 5083 involved a dispute over whether a child should return to their Ontario school as desired by the mother or stay at home for online learning as requested by the father. Justice Himel decided in favour of the child returning to their regular school despite admitted risks for COVID 19 infection being acknowledged by the Ontario Government. School attendance during a pandemic is a “challenging issue” for many parents, Justice Himel said noting:
“Unfortunately, for some separated and divorced parents, this is another battleground; one more arena where their child may become the prisoner of the war.”
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The Justice in Chase v Chase ruled in favour of the child returning to their regular school this month because:
 I adopt the reasoning set out in Droit de la famille — 20641, 2020 QCCS 1462 (CanLII). The Ontario government is in a better position than the courts to assess and address school attendance risks. The decision to re-open the schools was made with the benefit of medical expert advisers and in consultation with Ontario school boards. The teachers’ unions and others have provided their input as well as their concerns. While the parties spent considerable time addressing a recently released report by the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, I decline to consider same. There are experts on all sides of the Covid-19 debate, however, the decision to re-open schools and the steps being taken to protect children and staff fall within the purview of the Ontario government.
 Both parents agree that in non-pandemic times it is in W.C.s’ [ the child of the parties] best interests to attend school on an in-person basis. Moreover, in “normal” times it is his parents’ obligation to ensure that he attends school regularly.
 However, these are unprecedented times.
 There is a consensus between the Ontario government and medical experts that, at this juncture, it is not 100% safe for children to return to school. However, the risks of catching Covid-19 (and the typical effects of the illness) for children are being balanced against their mental health, psychological, academic and social interests, as well as many parents’ need for childcare. There is no end in sight to the pandemic and, as such, no evidence as to when it will be 100% safe for children to return to school. The Ontario government has determined that September 2020 is an appropriate time to move on to a “new normal” which includes a return to school.
The Justice held neither W.C. nor anyone in either of the parents’ household will be at an unacceptable risk of harm:
- None of the adults nor W.C. have any underlying medical conditions that make any of them particularly susceptible to adverse effects of Covid-19 and minor surgery to the mother did not present an appreciable risk, nor was a possibility the mother would need to visit her mother in Ohio a factor that trumped the child’s best interest in returning to school;
- The mother’s work outside of the home providing an essential service placed her at no greater COVID-19 infection risk than the father who worked from home, but whom when out in the community and in an indoor space, would always encounter at least one person who is non-compliant with the mandatory mask and social distancing rules. Therefore, any members of the Father’s household could be exposed to Covid-19 in their daily lives just as could the mother.
- The father’s concerns about the impact of wearing a mask at school affecting his son’s education. Although a mask makes it harder to communicate clearly and read facial cues which may impede the development of W.C.s oral skills in French this is not a risk that warrants online learning.
- The father’s concern over the guilt W.C. may feel if he believes he has infected a family member with Covid-19 (which is another of the Father’s concerns), can be addressed by the Mother, the Father, and Virginia assuring him that people catch viruses from many places and that he is not responsible; and
- The fear expressed by W.C. about returning to school until it is safe can be minimized through messages that support the Court’s decision, coupled with reassurances that the Ontario government will continue to monitor risk and take appropriate steps to protect children.
In another recent Ontario case of A.B. v L.J. 2020 ONSC 5248, a Justice declined to interfere with the mother’s final decision making authority to have a child continue distance learning. It is clear this issue will crop up repeatedly in the coming months and be impacted by any infections at schools that may develop.
We intend to discuss further developments in this area in future Best Toronto Family Lawyers Tips blogs.
We hope these Best Toronto Family Lawyers Tips help you understand family law issues that may impact you and your children. We look forward to providing more Best Toronto Family Lawyers Tips on the family property, child support, spousal support, and child parenting time issues shortly.
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